Lost in the Red Hills of Mars is an adventure book. The protagonist, Celine Red Cloud, is a teenaged girl born in a Martian colony. Her father is missing and presumed dead on an expedition in the Red Hills on the other side of a huge crater.
Celine and her Earthside grandmother both sense that her father is alive, but no one else in the colony believes her, including her mother, who is about to remarry a military scientist named Morg.
However, when Alex Rittenhouse, a teenage heartthrob who stars in a popular adventure show arrives on Mars, Celine enlists his help to go on an expedition to her father’s last known location.
There are a lot of plot elements in this book, from the mysterious “brain booster” shots that doctors administer to Celine, to the apparent greed of Alex’s “father” (more precisely, the man he is cloned from) for Martian resources, to a recurring thread of magical realism. Celine is of Cherokee descent, and there are repeated references to Cherokee beliefs and culture, particularly in her discussions with her grandmother, which help her on her journey.
I liked all this, as well as the detailed descriptions of the Martian landscape and the process of rock-climbing. As Alex explains while teaching Celine, it’s not as easy as it looks.
On the other hand, I struggled with the characters. Many of them seemed kind of… inconsistent. I think Alex was the one who was most unpredictable–sometimes he seems genuinely helpful, other times like an arrogant, greedy, spoiled celebrity. And there’s no reason he can’t have both elements in his personality–indeed, it makes sense that he would–but what makes it awkward is the way he goes back and forth between the two almost instantaneously.
It doesn’t help that his and Celine’s relationship becomes similarly unpredictable as a result–one minute they’re fighting, the next saying how much they appreciate each other.
Other characters also behave in odd ways. Like, when the two teenagers run away from the colony, it doesn’t feel right that Alex’s father would apparently just throw up his hands and say, “Oh well.” He seems like the type of guy who would spare no expense in finding his son–not only because he cares about him, but also as a point of pride. He struck me as one of those proud businessmen whose ego would compel him to prove that he is the master of all he surveys and nobody runs away from him; hostile alien landscape or not!
In other words, the character was set up very well, but then it seemed like we didn’t get the follow-through.
Also, while the overall plot is well-paced and enjoyable, there are some subplots that never get resolved. It may be that the author is planning to write a sequel.
Despite these issues, I still enjoyed the story and of course I loved the detailed presentation of the Martian setting. I also liked the way Celine grew as a character over the course of the book.
This is a YA book, but don’t let that put you off. Admittedly, I don’t read much YA anymore, but this was one of the better ones I’ve read. It felt less formulaic than most YA. I guess the only problem was the total lack of swearing. Not that every book should have swearing–I hate it when writers use gratuitous profanity to make something “gritty.” But, all the same, I have a hard time believing a veteran military officer, when something goes badly wrong in a high-stakes situation, would say “darn.” Of course, in YA, you can’t write out what he actually would say, but I’d just use something vague, like “he swore angrily.” That’s a minor point, though.
All in all, this is a fun book for anyone who enjoys Martian adventure stories. Despite my gripes about some of the characters, I still encourage sci-fi fans to give it a try.